BY Art Thiel 04:57PM 12/08/2011

Thiel: Will Mariners counter cannon with rocks?

Angels’ signings of Pujols and Wilson, the best hitter and pitcher in the free agent market, leave the Mariners a distant third in AL West, two months before spring training.

Albert Pujols' move to the Angels has rocked the Mariners' world. / Wiki Commons

It’s one thing to be blown out of the water. But getting the ocean drained away . . . the Mariners have a long walk on a deep seabed.

The signings Thursday by the Angels of  Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, the best hitter and best pitcher in this winter’s free agent market,  has not only stratified the AL West into haves and two have-nots, it has signaled that the rest of baseball is getting away from the Mariners.

At least Oakland has Hollywood making movies about A’s Moneyball honcho Billy Beane. Nobody is making a movie about Mariners president Chuck Armstrong.

Unless the Mariners bust an incredible  move to get free agent slugger Prince Fielder, who would have to get more money than Pujols to play for a lesser franchise in a more distant place in a hitter-unfriendly park, the club has been relegated, as we like to say in British futbol.

Second division in a four-team division, which by 2013 will be a five-team division with the arrival of the Houston Astros.

Pujols could have gone anywhere in the National League, or anywhere else in the AL, and the Mariners wouldn’t be as impacted. Instead, he ends up with a team the Mariners play 19 times, and puts more pressure on the Rangers to go after Fielder.

If you need to be told who would win a bidding war this winter for Fielder between the Mariners and Rangers, please stop reading now and get back to kitty videos on YouTube.

The two-time defending AL champion Rangers are two years removed from bankruptcy and have a robust present and near future. The franchise leader, Hall of Fame pitcher  Nolan Ryan, bends to no one as a competitor. He has a formidable divisional adversary in Arte Moreno, the Angels owner who proved again he is fully engaged in the fortunes of his baseball team by spending a third of a billion dollars on two contracts — more than he paid for the entire team seven years ago.

Seattle? The majority owner, Hiroshi Yamauchi of Japan, has never seen his team play in 19 years.  The largest American investor, Chris Larson, is going through a difficult divorce and can’t get his fellow owners to buy him out. The team hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2001 and has scored the fewest runs in baseball for three years running, and is burdened by contracts with under-productive veterans.

So yes, second place to the Rangers for Fielder is assured.

None of the foregoing facts are unknown to the rest of baseball, as well as the players’ agents, who will extract a premium from the Mariners before recommending clients sign up for the trip to south Alaska.

High-profile free agent signings have happened, as in the cases of Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. But Beltre will be trotted out by his agent as an example of what can happen in Seattle — he peaked before he became a Mariner, flattened out as a Mariner, then peaked again after he was a Mariner.

His agent? Scott Boras.

Fielder’s agent? Scott Boras.

Hmmm.

The Mariners are in a place no franchise should let itself get stuck — damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

There is plenty of risk in the Pujols deal, especially when he’s 42 — or 45 or 48, depending on whether you believe the “birthers” who are questioning his true age. The Angels may indeed live to regret it, but in short-attention-span America, sports teams tend to live in the moment.

But if a team hasn’t had a moment in 10 years, like the Mariners, the idea of being prudent, of tsk-tsking the Angels, doesn’t cut it. Nothing the Mariners have done in the last decade has amounted to much — even re-hiring the franchise icon, Ken Griffey Jr., backfired — so they are in no position to dismiss the efforts of others.

General manager Jack Zduriencik is an able baseball man, but he’s been told to bale the hayfield with scissors and a ball of twine. There are a hundred Jack Custs out there, but two real difference-makers, Pujols and Fielder, for what the Mariners desperately need. But thanks to Bill Bavasi years, the Mariners are attempting to catch up when many other teams are moving forward.

If it isn’t bad enough that Pujols and Fielder had no shot at becoming Mariners, each may wind up with a divisional rival.

That means the Mariners’ directionlessness not only makes the club weaker, it makes rivals stronger.

What will it say that by spring training, the Mariners’ biggest off-season transaction will have been to unload Chone Figgins?


YourThoughts

  • S45d14

    Ohhhhh, how depressingly pathetic the Chuck and Howie show has been, and how it let things get to this: a laughingstock club with  Cy Young pitcher and fences so far away Lewis and Clark would have trouble getting out there. Lou was right. Lou was right. Lou knew the score when the HC show played button-down baseball and refused the left handed bat he needed, called him “insubordinate” (just like in the military, an obvious management style to work with an ferocious icon like Lou…), drove him back to Florida –  and they never learn. They, (read CA) even somehow thought the loved but ancient Griff could be benefit to the club as a retread DH. WHAT are these guys thinking? WHY do we let them tread on our taxfunded stadium and treat it like it’s just for family-fun Dollywood stuff, unaccountable for the team they put on the field? May they choke on their idiocy, incompetence and arrogance; come back  reincarnated as Astroturf in the Kingdome.

  • Cruddly

    I have always wondered why a player like Pujols would suddenly chase money and leave a good situation like he had with the Cardinals.  He was going to make at least 120 million if he had stayed there, and that is not counting all the endorsement money he receives.  Plus, he was in a city where he is loved — and not just any city, but a real baseball town.  He had just helped them win the World Series, and he might have taken part in another, ultimately establishing a dynasty of sorts there.  But no.  Money calls — more money than he could ever spend.  Enough money to make him leave his comfort zone, his team mates, his friends and whatever else he had going on back in St Louis.  It make you ask,”How much money does one guy need?”  
    But it wasn’t like Pujols demanded this money from the Angels.  Their owner simply made an offer that he could not refuse.  Now the bar has been raised for all future signings, and teams like the Mariners are screwed.  I hope Pujols turns out to be a young looking 38 year old.

  • SeattleNative57

    Great post, Art. You are truly one of our finest sports columnists. You always “tell it like it is”, as the saying goes. And because of that, and the fact I’tv suffered Seattle sports my entire life, I pray you are wrong that Figgins is our only accomplishment come ST.

  • JoeFan

    I’m been saying it for years, but the M’s need to move on from Chuck and Howie, and that probably also means a new and vibrant ownership.

  • http://twitter.com/SwishasNKush Ken Spliffey Jr.

    If they miss out on Fielder, it’s the nail in the coffin for me. I will be permanently abandoning this sorry joke they call a “franchise.” It also means they might as well just trade off Felix because all they’re doing is wasting his time. So sick of these soccer mom owners.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AMDXZRNR7BHO7GJCIOCGINOV6I Louis

    I will always be a baseball fan. I will always be a Mariners fan. But I can’t say the same for Major League Baseball. As much as I love sports, I just don’t think players should be making this kind of money anymore. Pujol’s signing just seems out of whack with what’s going on in the world today. Yeah, I know. It’s not my money and Moreno can do what he wants just like Hicks did when he signed Pay-Rod to that ridiculous contract.  The gap between the have teams and have not teams is widening in MLB. and as long as it’s all about the bottom line, so it will continue. This league needs a cap. 

  • Jim

    Ichiro Suzuki – 5 years, $90 million extention
    Felix Hernandez – 5 years, $78 million extention
    Franklin Gutierrez – 4 years, $20 million extention
    Chone Figgins – 4 years, $36 million free agent contract
    Dustin Ackley – 5 years, $7.5 million + $6 million bonus
    Danny Hultzen – 5 years, $8.5 million + $6.35 million bonus

    This team doesn’t spend enough money.  They must give Jack the financial resources to make big moves.

    Sorry, but my first trip to this establishment will be my last.

  • Artthiel

    Fair point. That’s part of why we have elections. However, for an SB bid, the city needs mostly to approve. Allen and the host committee will have to take all initiative. H’s capable. 

  • Rickm

    Wheres the roof? Seattle has none and it’s not new york

  • Jim

    That sentence about the Mariner’s made me snarf. Good column. This is so doable. It’s one game, not the owimpics.

    • Artthiel

      No need to build a thing. Just a cop or two to pivot a stop sign to a slow sign

  • Wafwot

     Why play the Super Bowl in a warm climate or under a roof?  The playoffs that lead up to the Super Bowl aren’t played in warm weather.  I would LOVE to see a Super Bowl played in the SNOW.  NFL fans will go to a Super Bowl in any climate!